The Impact of the Fashion and Beauty Industries on Marine Life

 

If it is true that eyes don’t see what the mind doesn’t know, then we do have a problem and is time to speak about it.

We all know just too well that cathartic feeling after we just purchased a new garment – we try it on, it’s perfect, we buy it, use it, and then wash it. 

What we struggle to envisage is a sea turtle, a couple of metres below our feet, eating what she thinks is fish egg or a jellyfish – but that is actually a piece of plastic. According to a new IUCN study , 30% of the plastic polluting our oceans is made up of microplastic. We’re not talking big plastic bags, straws or cans here, but microscopic plastic particles washed off clothes, exfoliants and other beauty products.

Let’s get our head around microfibres and microbeads

Microfibres and microbeads all come from the big microplastic family. Microbeads are often used in beauty products due their exfoliating properties and can be found in scrubs, toothpastes and face and body washes. To give you an idea in numbers: “a single tube of cleanser can contain approximately 300,000 microbeads and “a single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean”.

Microfibres on the other hand, originate from synthetic fabrics such as polyester, acrylic and nylon and detach from our clothes during washing.

The impact on health and environment

An experimental study carried out by researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management found that “when synthetic jackets are washed, on average 1.7 grams of microfibres are released from the washing machine. These microfibres then travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes, and oceans”, polluting our waters.

Although microfibres are 60 to 100 times finer than a human hair, eating them can result in intoxication, starvation and reproductive issues for marine species. And yes, you guessed it – humans eat fishes who eats microfibers (reason #95381 to switch to a plant-based diet).

 

 

What can we do

Looking at the bright side of the issue, companies, international organisations and consumers are now more aware of the negative implications of microplastic and are taking measures to limit the effects.

The European Parliament has officially recognised the extents of the problem and is examining possible solutions. Overseas, the US gave even a stronger response by banning microbeads in cosmetics 

Know your ingredients

As often happens, companies will not make it easy for you to recognise what contains microplastic. When checking your labels,  be wary of products containing the following: polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon.

Replace microbeads with natural exfoliators

Companies such as LUSH already successfully use plastic-free biodegradable alternatives including caster sugar, ground nuts, coffee beans, bamboo stem extract, ground rice and salt. Not only are natural alternatives are just as effective due to their round-edged shape, but they are also gentler on the skin.

Circular design and product development innovation

“Plastic is a design failure”, says Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans  “Once it is produced, it never dies. How can we redesign plastic to make it harmless? How can we turn the problem into an opportunity?”

Raw for the Oceans is turning ocean plastic into denim , as is Adidas, which turned ocean plastic and fishing nets into trainers. H&M Conscious Collection is using ground-breaking sustainable material BIONIC, made using ocean plastic waste collected from shorelines around the world. And at the most recent Paris Fashion Week, Stella McCartney showcased looks made of recycled plastic bottles founds in oceans.

This is only one of the reasons why ever company should invest in an Innovation and Sustainability team collaboratively working with the Design, Product Development, Investor Relations team and continuously brainstorming and testing on new materials, projects and opportunities to create positive impact on the environment and society as a whole. This is particularly true in the fashion and beauty industry.

Wash less and invest in a lint filter

As we learned earlier, microfibres reach our oceans when we wash our clothing, so the trivial conclusion is to wash less and really question yourself if that top you only wore for a couple of hours yesterday night need a wash or can be reused. This will not only help save the oceans, it will also increase the lifespan of your garments.

Lint filters will also prevent non-biodegradable materials to travel your washing machine pipes and reach our lakes, rivers and oceans.

Support Goal 14 – Life Below Water

In the pledge to save our planet (or at least doing your part), why not to choose Goal 14 of the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development and take action across social media, in your community or by making your voice heard?

 

Photos by Sergey Zolkin and Scott Webb via Unsplash

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Giulia Panna

Innovation Officer

Born and raised in Italy, Giulia dreamed and learned about sustainability and social innovation in San Francisco and started her managerial career developing HR solutions for international clients in London at age 23. Going back she would have liked to inherit the Italian good taste in Milan, learn to surf in California and spend more time in the pub in London! She now hopes that being part of a fashion editorial team will make her life look cooler. Find her tweeting about sustainable fashion and her ginger cat Pancake, and occasionally complaining about bad customer service at twitter.com/julia_panna

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